**** This is trip hop-informed contemporary jazz-rock at its very best

The Portishead-affiliated jazz-rock band hit new heights on their first fully improvised album

You may be familiar with Portishead’s rhythm dream-team of Jim Barr and Clive Deamer. You may not know, though, that since 2000 they have been members of a jazz band called Get The Blessing. For the fourth GTB album, ‘Lope and Antilope’, the group (also including trumpeter Pete Judge and saxophonist Jake McMurchie) have worked with two guests and longtime friends: Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley and Bat For Lashes guitarist Tim Allen. But despite the big name credits, all egos are left at the door as these highly skilled musicians come together in a jazz setting to display their remarkable musicianship.

Get The Blessing formed through a shared fascination with Ornette Coleman’s improvisatory prowess, and although they have experimented with improv in earlier albums, ‘Lope and Antilope’ (recorded in an empty pottery in Pembrokeshire, with sounds collected on the road as inspiration) is their first fully improvised record. Not that you’d guess, as it sounds deceptively thought out – this is considered and careful improv, testament to the long time the musicians have been playing together, which results in an experimental yet measured sound.

Get The Blessing are never ones for the ordinary, often seen sporting colourful cellophane headpieces on their album covers, and here they show their cheeky side by having fun with the track names: ‘Open’, ‘Lope’, ‘Antilope’, ‘Trope’, ‘Hope’… you get the picture. Once album opener ‘Quiet’ has set the record up with its otherworldly pitch bends and exacting grooves, the subsequent tracks take the listener through heavier territory and back again, ending with the calmer atmosphere of ‘Numbers’.

This is trip hop-informed contemporary jazz-rock at its very best. Get The Blessing’s distinctive, dubby sound infiltrates this album, but ‘Lope and Antilope’ feels more relaxed than their previous work. Clever use of guitar pedals and electronic effects create an absorbing ambient space, and the improvised tracks are powerful but skilfully controlled. The musicians may have big credits to their names, but they’re at the height of their powers on this superb album of improv jazz inflections.

Posted September 11, 2015